Colombia, what to know before traveling here

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Colombia, what to know before traveling here

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Colombia is a surprising country still little visited by mass tourism and for that reason most authentic and true to itself. Despite a bloody history and a reputation of insecurity and criminality, today Colombia has broken away from its past and faces international tourism with the warmth and hospitality typical of its people and the wonder of an incredibly varied land. In this article we tell you everything you should know before a trip to Colombia.

We love... Colombia!

Colombia is a surprising country still little visited by mass tourism and therefore more true to itself. Although its bloody past, characterized by the presence of major drug trafficking cartels (you all remember the “Narcos” series and Pablo Escobar, don’t you?) and widespread insecurity, has contributed to its rather negative reputation, today Colombia is a hospitable, open and safe land that faces international tourism with a spirit that is still authentic, immature at times but precisely because of this even more interesting. Traveling to Colombia requires careful planning, a healthy spirit of adaptation and a desire to let yourself be surprised and mingle with the locals. That’s why in this article we tell you everything you should know before a trip to discover this magnificent nation.

Colombia at a glance

Despite its size, Colombia applies one time zone in all cities and does not apply daylight saving time (DST) during the year. Therefore, the time in Colombia will be +6 or +7 compared to Switzerland and Italy depending on the time of year. Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. However, in large cities there may be Sunday openings and extended hours.

The official language is Spanish, with a cadence and characteristics typical of South America. The tourist industry is still rather immature: English is therefore not yet widespread even in the main tourist regions and accommodations.

The official currency in Colombia is the Colombian Peso (COP). One Swiss franc is worth about 4,590 Colombian pesos (1 euro = 4,300 pesos). Credit cards are accepted in restaurants and large accommodations. However, we suggest bringing some cash with you for small purchases.

A passport and a valid return ticket are required for entry into Colombia and a tourist stay of up to 90 days. It is also required to complete, prior to departure, the Check-Mig entry form found at this link.

No vaccinations are required for entry into Colombia, although some are strongly recommended. These include the vaccine for Yellow Fever, hepatitis and rabies.
Depending on the areas you will be visiting, it may be useful to follow malaria prophylaxis. For both malaria prophylaxis and recommended vaccinations, we suggest consulting your doctor or a specialized travel health center. At this link you will find all the information about health in Colombia.

Colombia is connected to Europe by intercontinental flights to the international airports of Bogota and Cartagena. Both airports are located near urban centers and can be reached with a cab or Uber ride. Within the airports or in close proximity you will find major car rental companies.

When to go to Colombia?

A million dollar question! Colombia is located in the equatorial region, and its location, together with its geographical conformation and the influences of various weather phenomena give it a rather unstable climate that varies considerably from region to region. So first, forget the seasons: in Colombia we rather talk about the dry season, which is concentrated in the months of December to February and June to August, and the rainy season, which affects the months of March to May and September to November. However, this rule suffers considerable exceptions due to altitude: for example, in July the climate in Bogota, which is more than 2,600 meters above sea level, is nothing like the climate in Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast. For this reason, it is not easy to identify an ideal time to visit the entire country. Our suggestion is to plan a trip between December and February or, as in our case, to choose July and August if you are willing to deal with some brief and sporadic thunderstorms.

What to consider when planning a trip to Colombia

Accommodation – Mass tourism has recently been discovered in Colombia and is not yet sufficiently mature. This means that you will have the opportunity to enjoy a good range of accommodations but you may also be required to have some spirit of adaptation and flexibility. In general, accommodations offer a good level of service but to avoid surprises we suggest that you consider Colombian classification standards below those applied on average in Europe. If you do not speak Spanish, equip yourself with a dictionary or an online translator because English is not fully spoken and understood, even in accommodations in large cities such as Bogota and Cartagena.

Transportation – Colombia does not have an efficient and reliable public transportation system, and in any case, we would advise against venturing on a public transport bus alone. Therefore, if you have chosen not to use a tour operator, transportation will be a critical issue in planning your trip to Colombia. The breadth of the country will likely require you to take advantage of one or two internal flights. In addition, you will need to move within the cities. In Bogota and Cartagena, we suggest you use Uber, booking your ride and always paying through the App. This will ensure your safety and protect you from fraud attempts. Avoid getting into cabs taken on the street, even if they are official. Instead, in rural areas, our advice is to book transfers or tours with transfers included through Getyourguide or other booking sites.

Clothing – For a trip to Colombia you will need to be prepared for everything! Given the capricious weather, your suitcase should allow you to deal with colder climates and tropical areas and, why not, take a swim in one of the golden beaches of the Caribbean Sea. We, as mentioned, went in July and chose “onion” clothing, wearing several layers to take off and put on depending on the weather of the day or the geographical area you are visiting.
You will almost certainly then get caught in a sudden rain shower. So get yourself a windbreaker and don’t forget to cover your backpack to keep your documents, books and cameras out of the water! Last thing: the sun, especially in Caribbean areas, can be really strong. So don’t forget to bring a cap and high factor sunscreen with you!

Food and drinks – Although we did not have high expectations about it, the food in Colombia pleasantly surprised us. The incredible variety of products – especially fruits and vegetables – unknown to us and the cultural contamination that characterizes the country has shaped a surprising food culture, made up of a clever mix of sweet and savory that left us speechless. Geography obviously plays a big role here as well: while in the mountainous and inland areas meats rule the day, in the Caribbean areas fish and unusual-looking fruits are the masters. In general, we always ate very well in all the cities we visited! However, we would like to remind you that the hygienic conditions are not well suited to our European stomachs: therefore, take care to avoid food purchased on the street or undercooked/uncooked.
As for drinks, although water is considered drinkable in large cities, it is not recommended for travelers. Therefore, always buy bottled water and, if you order cocktails, have them served without ice.

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Is Colombia a safe destination?

Yes it is! Despite its not too good reputation, Colombia is now considered a safe destination for travelers, with proper caution and taking care to avoid certain areas considered as “sensitive”. Major tourist routes such as Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin, the Eje cafetero (Coffee Axis) and the Caribbean coast can be toured far and wide without any problems. The care normally required of a traveler is, of course, required in order to avoid difficult situations and exposing himself to unwanted risks.
Petty theft can occur in large cities: take only the essentials with you, leaving the rest safely in the hotel, and take care to store money and documents in a place not easily accessible.
Some attempted fraud and thefts against travelers have also been reported on official cabs. For this reason, you should rely on Uber for transportation in the city, so that you always pay for your ride through the official App and leave a record of your route and the cab you choose.
Ironically, today the greatest risks for those visiting the country come from its geographical and morphological characteristics. Indeed, Colombia is a country with a high seismic risk and has as many as 21 active volcanoes on its territory that make themselves felt from time to time. In general, we therefore suggest that you keep informed by consulting the official website of the Colombian Geological Service (Servicio Geològico Colombiano) at this link.

LGBT travelers to Colombia?

Is Colombia safe for LGBT travelers? In short, yes it is! It must be said that Colombia is generally considered one of the most open and progressive nations on LGBT rights in South America. Homosexuality in Colombia has not been considered a crime since 1980, and in 2011 Congress approved the law against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Finally, in 2016 the Constitutional Court legalized same-sex marriage. While large cities such as Bogota and Cartagena are now considered safe, hospitable, and open to LGBT tourism, rural areas and small towns remain more conservative and closed. We therefore suggest greater caution in these areas in effusing in public or engaging in behaviors that may be considered offensive by locals.
However, in general, hotels and accommodations have always shown us, even in the more rural areas, openness and hospitality.

Our itinerary

Welcome to our trip to Colombia! We dedicated 14 days to the country in mid-July. Intense and wonderful days that gave us vivid memories and unique experiences. Our trip started from Bogota, the third South American capital by altitude after La Paz and Quito. After visiting the city and some attractions in the surrounding area, we moved to the Coffee Axis to explore the coffee plantations, one of the nation’s main sources of income. From here, we took an internal flight to the Caribbean coast of Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park, followed by the wonderful Cartagena, a city declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will soon publish all the articles on the different destinations we visited with tips and suggestions for planning your visit!

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